The Killing of John Lennon

Movie review by
Cynthia Fuchs, Common Sense Media
The Killing of John Lennon Movie Poster Image
Intense, upsetting look inside an assassin's mind.
  • NR
  • 2008
  • 114 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Chapman is increasingly disturbed, his anger and loneliness clear in his monologues. He plans to kill Lennon throughout the film and doesn't regret the murder when it happens.


The film leads to Lennon's assassination, which it foreshadows repeatedly with images of guns, bullets, and jarring camera movements. A character repeats the phrase "bang bang" while forming a gun with his fingers, pointed at the camera. Chapman describes his father's abuse and at one point slams furniture in his room. Scenes from Raging Bull show boxing. Chapman imagines shooting a man through a wall, then bursting into the man's room and shooting him and his male lover (loud, close-up gunfire). Chapman buys a gun, practices aiming at people outside his window, and eventually takes it to shoot Lennon on the sidewalk (Yoko screams in the background, Lennon falls in slow motion, blood spurting). Chapman describes his suicidal thoughts to a doctor.


Some brief cleavage shots. Chapman's mother flirts with a young man (she leans close and giggles). Two men kiss and embrace (Chapman listens in from the next room and becomes upset, calling them "homos").


Two uses of "f--k," plus a couple of "hells" and one "s--t."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Chapman appears drunk -- he holds a bottle in a paper bag, and the images on screen get blurry to indicate his impaired vision.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this grim drama isn't for kids (who probably won't be interested anyway). It focuses on the deterioration of John Lennon assassin Mark David Chapman's mind, and there's a lot of discussion about the murder as he plans it, as well as images of guns, bullets, and shooting practice. Lennon's actual death is especially hectic and harsh. In his hotel room, Chapman overhears two men kissing (they're then shown embracing); he imagines shooting them, calling them "homos." Other language includes "f--k" and "s--t."

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What's the story?

Drawing from the prison diaries of Mark David Chapman, THE KILLING OF JOHN LENNON imagines what it might be like inside the assassin's mind. Tracing the three months leading up to Chapman's murder of John Lennon on Dec. 8, 1980, Andrew Piddington's film begins in Hawaii, where the 25-year-old Chapman (Jonas Ball) lives with his mother (Krisha Fairchild) and young wife, Gloria (Mie Omori). Lonely and disturbed, he's determined to become famous, and finds his means when he reads The Catcher in the Rye. Identifying with main character Holden Caulfield, Chapman decides to rid the world of the man he considers its greatest "phony": the former Beatle living in New York City.

Is it any good?

Gloomy and angry, Chapman doesn't provide much in the way of standard biopic fodder. Certainly, he's extremely troubled; his favorite movies are Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now, and Ordinary People -- which all focus on unhappy individuals trying to change their worlds with violence. "I was Mr. Nobody," Chapman says, "'til I killed the biggest somebody on earth."

While the film relies on some clichés to convey Chapman's distress (low-angle views of his sad face, slow-motion shots of city sidewalks), it also suggests his frustrating contexts: Speedy media and unattainable wealth surround him. Evoking Chapman's inability to see outside his own rage and needs by using long sequences of fragmented images, the movie makes clear that he was less deviant than a logical product of his moment. More tragically, his story can be seen as a projection, a look forward into the "future" (i.e. our own present) of celebrity culture.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how media attention to the assassination of public figures is appealing to some killers, who desire fame. Can you think of other potentially negative consequences of media news coverage? How about positive ones? Families can also discuss how the movie portrays Chapman: Is he ever sympathetic, as he is plainly troubled and lonely? What do you think of his devotion to the book Catcher in the Rye? If you've read the book, do you think he misunderstands its meaning?

Movie details

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